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13 August 2013

LAST reflections

We ran the second LAST conference a few weeks ago and I finally have a few minutes to reflect and it appears I have a lesson for myself in there.
The day was anchored in values and principles
You might already know that LAST conference ran on 2nd August and we hosted 70 speakers (some in pairs) and about 370 total participants. It was a day that buzzed with energy. It is essentially managed by Ed and me, with on-campus assistance from Raj and Paul. It’s a lightweight team compared to many other events.

That explains why we are so tired the weekend after the conference.

But it also encourages us to be lean and innovative in the way we do things. I wanted to share some examples with you in the hope they inspire you to some new insight.  The three key themes that I am thinking about are typical management issues in most businesses; Mission and purpose, Decision making and Collective Ownership.
Stephanie BySouth leads a discussion on coaching

Mission and purpose
What was our purpose in running this event? It doesn't make us money. (In fact we lose money due to sacrificing work days to organise it.) 

We mainly did it because people wanted it to happen. 

There is some back of mind idea that one day it will be worth money, but we don’t have any plans to act on that desire. What we want to do is run a great event for the community that we are a part of here in Melbourne, and to some degree our neighbours in nearby states and NZ.

We also like the energy of the day, and enjoy being a part of the vibe.

It’s great being a part of this community. One of the reasons I was originally attracted to the agile community is it’s passion for exploring and learning. And that was at the heart of the day. Not everything that was presented was necessarily useful or even valid –but it is a part of a wider exploration into better ways to do business.

My favourite part of the Agile Manifesto is “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” This day definitely aligns to that agenda.

So we don’t have a particularly strong lock on our mission, but it is loosely “run a cool event that you can be proud of.” And that doesn't steer us just at the content, but at the culture of the community, the things these people value and the style of interactions they value.

We think we have a bead on this, but also think we are just beginners and hope to see this get better in the future.
Lunch boxes (care of REA and Cafe Blac) encouraged people to go and talk to each other.
Decision Making
With just a handful of organisers we had to make decisions quickly and efficiently. In a conversation on the day I described our decision making protocol like this;

“Someone makes a decision and then it’s made. If you don’t like a decision, make another one.”

We didn't articulate it. We just identified it in retrospect. And on several occasions Ed or I made decisions that the other thought were bad, or could have at least been better. And sometimes Ed would make a decision that I thought was bad, but I ended up being proved wrong.

I don’t think we ever over-rode anyone else’s decision. There wasn't time to second guess too much, and we certainly didn't want to waste our energy on low value discussions. Good enough – as intangible and contextual a thing as it is – became the default acceptance criteria.

I think this was one of the most interesting aspects of the way we managed this event. There was no issue of power or authority to get in the way so we just got on with business.
Martin and Abi talk about discipline in the Speaker's corner
Collective Ownership
An important aspect of the day for us is that it feels like a community coming together. So to that degree we want to community – or speakers, facilitators and participants, to come together and feel like they are doing something to make the day successful.

Our solution to this was to do less. We didn't have people managing track is or rooms, we didn't have people helping the speakers. We enlisted the first people we knew that arrived in signing people in (via a handy Eventbrite app.)

We didn't have breaks between sessions. Instead we asked speakers to interrupt their predecessors if they were going over time.  That was everyone is accountable for the day.

I think we want to amplify this aspect in the future.

Overall we are thinking we did a pretty good job. Cheap, fast and good. And we did learn a few things we think we can improve on, and hope to get some more feedback via a survey we sent out to the attendees yesterday.

These are my thoughts so far. I'll ask the others to chip in and comment. Also - If you were there on the day in any capacity – what did you think?